June Huston declares herself a Tennesseean – with still a trace of a southern drawl. Transplanted with her husband to New Milford, she has been its benefactor ever since. Two years ago she donated $5,000 to the town for its park, money that was used to buy a handicap lift for the pool. At the Borough Council meeting on June 17th, she presented another check for the park, this time for $10,000. Council didn't announce where the new money might go, but Ms. Huston's generosity was gratefully accepted. Ms. Huston is thought to have been the first female Red Cross swimming instructor in Pennsylvania.
June Huston (left) presents a check for $10,000 to New Milford Borough Council President Teri Gulick
The generosity of its citizens doesn't stop there. The 4 deteriorating picnic tables and 4 benches in Midtown Park will also be replaced, paid for by Jan Glatzel to memorialize members of her family. And Blue Ridge Recreation Park, soon to have a memorial to Phil Hari donated by his family, will get a sign and bench from the Fekette family to remember members of that family.
Council President Teri Gulick announced that the Midtown Festival this year – the "biggest yet" and a rousing success after a hiatus last year due to the COVID pandemic – yielded a record $7,760, in part from the $15 fee paid by renters of the 49 booths at the event. Mayor Scott Smith called it a "wonderful Midtown Festival." It didn't hurt that the park was kept in such good condition by the Borough's maintenance employee Chuck Welch. Mayor Smith declared himself proud of his town's "wonderful parks."
The pandemic could result in bringing about $82,000 to the Borough from the federal American Rescue Plan. As with so many government programs, it doesn't come without strings, in this case in part through an application process that is many pages long. "What a nightmare," said Borough Secretary Amy Hine, who is tasked with wading through the red tape. Designated a "non-entitlement unit," the Borough must apply for the funds through the state Department of Community & Economic Development (DCED).
Ms. Hine has also been chasing down other grant opportunities, but since the town is considered to be outside the 51% low-income limits, they are had to come by. One source of potential grant money may be accessible as long as a suitable project can be identified to use it on. Council is considering paying for the replacement of some 17 "water pits" required by the New Milford Municipal Authority to replace aging water meters.
Council was notified that the Council of Governments (COG), which occupies half of the Borough Building, will be shifting to meetings only every other month. A letter expressed some disappointment at sparse attendance by COG members, and said that there were openings on its Board of Directors that need to be filled.
Similarly, a seat on the New Milford Borough Council has opened up with the resignation of Dan Totten, who can't spare the time from some new obligations. Should you want to throw your hat in the ring, consider attending the next meeting of the New Milford Borough Council, moved up a week next month to allow Ms. Hine a vacation, to Thursday, July 8, 2021 beginning at 6:30pm in the Borough Building on Main Street.
The re-scheduled Borough meeting of Susquehanna Depot was held on Wednesday the 16th, a week later than their normally scheduled meetings. Council members Barbara Larsen, Debbie Zayas, Chrissy Vinsko, Roy Williams and Sue Crawford were present for the meeting. Starting promptly at 6:00pm, the gavel alerted everyone in the room to rise for the pledge of allegiance and to formally begin the meeting.
The first action of the Council was to schedule a closed-door executive session for the end of the meeting for legal reasons. After the agenda was adopted, the floor was turned over to public comment. Present for public comment were two members of the Susquehanna Community Development Association, herein referred to as the SCDA. Initially just one member quietly gestured and implied they were hopeful for a positive vote on a specific issue. The matter was glossed over, and brought up later in the meeting. The community development report was mostly full of notices of park requests. One of which is from the local master gardener group. They requested that Susquehanna Borough reevaluate their rain barrel project in the Ira-Reynolds park in such a way that the rain barrels on the upcoming pavilion are reduced by 2, and in its place put in subsurface gutters that duct rain water to a rain garden outlying the pavilion. The council seemed agreeable so long as the project was approved by DEP, given the fact the park is a brownfield remediation site.
Also noted was that the Marketing Hometown America program was progressing with 4 new Borough committees. Committees are as follows: 1.) Marketing, led by Kathy Matis 2.) Signage, led by Peter Bauman and Mary Butler3.) Welcome Wagon, led by Cynthia MacNamee, and 4.) Community Beautification, led by Christina Rex. Each group is working to cultivate a community that not only attracts new residents, something that has happened simultaneously due to COVID, but to also retain residents and build a strong local community. These committees are open to the public to join.
Next up, President of the Council, Roy Williams, stated that the steel beams for the pavilion at the Ira-Reynolds park were erected. He also noted that more solar lights will be coming to the park within the next week or two. Roy Williams remarked his dismay that the current electric lights were not solar lights, stating that had solar lights been allowed to be installed it would have saved the Borough upwards of $150,000.00. However, he did note that there could be other options in the future, such as solar panels on future pavilions in the park. He feels that if this were to be pursued the Borough could save money on the electric bill each month.
The DPW report gave the circumstances on the Front street project. What used to be a situation where storm water runoff ran behind the Starrucca House is now remediated so that water runs into the appropriately corresponding catch basins. Another item on the DPW agenda was the East Main Street pocket park. Currently, there is a fence and no trespassing sign up in the park due to a safety hazard regarding the bluestone wall that goes up-to Willow avenue. The Borough hired Delta engineers to perform a study on the wall and it was confirmed that the wall is not safe as is, and that there is something adding the ultimate demise of the wall. Exactly what that something is has yet to be determined. The DPW department will be opening up Willow Avenue to get an up close and personal look into what exactly is causing the wall beneath it to push out. After the cause has been determined, they will put the construction out to bid. Councilman Williams remarked the project will be costly.
Corresponding to the pocket park, councilman Debbie Zayas reported that there was a meeting between the Borough and the SCDA, and that she felt the meeting was a great success. She applauded the two groups for having great communication and moved on to say "the SCDA is doing a great job, I feel everyone appreciates the work of the garden club and SCDA."
As councilman Zayas wrapped up her report, everyone turned their eyes to the next item on the agenda. At this, the room became lively as council members were visibly taken back while others remarked at the sizable report Codes enforcement officer Butch Kelsey had turned in. Council members glanced over the report and questioned why so many people can't seem to properly take care of their garbage and mow their lawn. Councilman Sue Crawford questioned a property at the corner of West Main Street and 5th Avenue. Apparently, the grass seems to have not been cut this year, and she inquired into the situation. Codes officer Butch Kelsey responded that the property is owned by a corporation out of the state, and that he has written them up three times and they have yet to pay any fines and obviously have yet to cut the grass. He also remarked that this company in question has pending lawsuits, and has heard they have claims against them for entering into land contract deals where they kick out the residents and keep the money. This brought up the reoccurring frustrations of the many loopholes that repeat offenders use to get out of abiding by local laws and the corresponding consequences. Butch Kelsey shared his frustration over a resident who owes over $12,000.00 in fines and has yet to be incarcerated. Therefore, as codes enforcement officer he recommended the council consider the following: 1.) an ordinance for habitual offenders to face jail time 2.) Include the codes department to cite violations for parking issues to free up the limited part time police 3.) Create an ordinance to include the wages of the codes officer spent on any given citation. Another topic of discussion was parking on the sidewalks. The council remarked that they will be contacting the police department to request focus on enforcing the laws protecting pedestrians from cars in the walkway.
Next up was Dan Vinsko from emergency management. He wanted to thank the council for allowing his department and the police department to put on a car show at the Susquehanna Borough building. He asked if Erie Boulevard could be temporarily closed while the event was happening. The event is scheduled for Saturday, July 10th from 2:00 - 6:00pm. His next update had everyone in the room, including the public, scratching their heads for ideas. Currently, the school is no longer an option for emergency shelter due to COVID. This means a new venue needs to be found, and it needs to be able to accommodate around 500 people for 24-48 hours. After several ideas were tossed around with no real solution, it was questioned if the venue needs to be broken up into multiple spaces. Some questioned if the local catholic church would be willing to open their doors for emergency management.
Typically, the council meetings in Susquehanna end at 7:00pm, but this meeting was just getting started. The brand new and pressing matter of terms and conditions, permits and alcohol on Borough property began. The room was anxious, slow to speak and tense as everyone, including the SCDA who appeared for public comment, weighed the options of starting a new precedence with alcohol. The SCDA is sponsoring "Rockin by the River", a summer nights music series, that they would like serviced by two local breweries. Unlike Hometown Days where the Fire Department has a beer tent on their own property, the Borough has never taken on such a liability. And liability was the word of the evening. Councilman Chrissy Vinsko went on record to state that she feels allowing alcohol on Borough property would start a precedent that could challenge the already struggling police department. She reminded everyone that they have only one police officer and he is already pushed to the max, and that starting something like this could open a can of worms. Sparing readers from the long and drawn-out decision-making process that lasted nearly an hour, the council ended up hesitantly passing a motion to allow alcohol on Borough property with a permit only. They also passed a set of terms and conditions for all future Borough Park usage, as well as a permit process for certain actions and an accompanying indemnification waiver.
With the hesitant vote completed, the council adjourned at 8:00pm into executive session.
Two weeks ago the Mountain View School Board accepted a preliminary budget for the 2021-2022 fiscal year that was out of balance by about $1.7 million. At the meeting on June 14th, Business Manager Tom Witiak reported that he and Superintendent Michael Elia had narrowed that gap to about $100,000. With barely 2 weeks to go, he said that by the next meeting when they must formally adopt a budget, he said that it "will be balanced one way or another," as it must be by law.
Seventy percent or more of the total budget is accounted for by salaries and benefits. So far it is known that some adjustments have been made by shifting professional staff around and eliminating some functions, perhaps some cuts through attrition. Some staff are essential, however, so the resignation of high school math teacher Katie Beichler, while regretted by some Board members, will leave an opening for which the Board agreed to advertise.
The Board has already decided to increase property tax rates by the maximum allowed by the state: 3 percent, to 45.0165 mills (from 43.7054 mills). Mountain View also collects half of one percent in an earned income tax, as well as a per-capita tax of $5, and an occupation tax of 100 mills, plus a real estate transfer tax of 1%. At this meeting the Board approved a measure defining the payment periods for the property tax, with the first payment due by the end of August. The Board must pass a final budget in a timely manner in order to get the bills out quickly.
The district is under additional financial pressure because of the debt undertaken for the major renovation project 2 years ago. A payment of $410,511.88 is due on July 1, the start of the new fiscal year. Furthermore, the required homestead/farmstead exclusion for this year is estimated to cut revenue by about $523,000; there are 2,329 eligible homesteads and farmsteads in the district.
To help with some of this, Mr. Witiak asked the Board to approve opening a new account with Peoples Security Bank & Trust as a convenience. The Board also voted to name member Sondra Stine as district Treasurer for the next school year, with a stipend of $2,400.
Along with the open position of high school math teacher, the Board hired Jenifer Davis as a STEM teacher for this year's summer session (STEM stands for Science, Technology, Engineering and Math, an increasing focus in many schools as technology advances). The "extended school year" program was also approved for the month of July. The Board also reappointed Jan Price as Athletic Director for the new school year. And they established salaries for a long list of coaches for fall and winter sports.
Among other things on the agenda, the Board approved two "memoranda of understanding" with the Northeastern Intermediate Instructional Unit (NEIU), one for special education services that the district does not cover itself, and one for Title III services. Title III provides for instruction in English for non-native speakers.
Maintenance Supervisor Bob Taylor reported on the refinishing of the floors in the gymnasia. Work on the one in the Elementary School was evident from the odor of the sealant applied to the newly sanded floor. Both of the gym floors will be completely refurbished this summer.
With the budget still up for grabs, Board President Jason Richmond reported that negotiations are nearing completion with the MVESPA, which represents the non-professional support staff at Mountain View. Contracted salaries and benefits are a major part of the budget, a part that cannot be easily modified simply for budget concerns.
Two weeks hence the public will learn just how Mr. Witiak and Mr. Elia have been able to balance a difficult budget. The meeting is scheduled for Monday, June 28, 2021 beginning at 7:00pm in the conference room in the Elementary School.